Freelance Gigs Through Online Talent Markets
By Mark Swartz
Monster Contributing Writer
They have funky names: Guru.com, Elance.com, oDesk.com. This new breed of web-based “talent market” is where freelancers bid for work from clients.
For Gen Y freelancers, gig-matching sites like these can be a boon. But they can also be a race to the bottom. You compete for work by submitting bids against others from around the world.
How Talent Markets Work
A talent market is basically a labour exchange. Freelancers bid for “contracts” (project work) posted by buyers, who may be called clients or employers. Common projects include IT, writing, admin support, design and marketing. The list expands daily. These are the steps to get involved:
1) Signing Up. You sign on as a provider for free.
2) Agreeing To The Terms. There’s a strict agreement that you agree to abide by. No poaching clients for yourself is a common rule, unless you want to pay a penalty or get blacklisted. A standard contract covers payment terms, assignment of intellectual property rights, etc. Also it puts you under house rules, taking away some options for direct communication and payment.
3) Creating Your Profile. Post a portfolio of information about your skills, expertise and experience. Upload samples of your work if appropriate.
4) Pass The Test. You may be asked to do some type of skill-testing exercise, or provide references and samples of your work.
5) Bid For Work. Once you have access to postings from possible clients, you can begin bidding on gigs. Specs are provided. You estimate your time/materials, leaving room for a financial return on your time.
6) Track Time and Deliverables. Talent markets collect information about the work that’s done so that they can pay accurately. Some of them have sophisticated time tracking software. In fact, you may get asked to be monitored by your webcam, especially on hourly-rate gigs.
7) Payment. The client pays the site, and the site pays you – after deducting anywhere from 5% to 10% off the invoice price, and possibly a flat fee too per invoice. There are rules for partial and full release of funds based on completion or quality of work. Dispute resolution is covered in the Agreement. You may get paid a portion up front, or have all funds held in an “escrow” account.
How This Differs From Monster.ca’s Postings For Contract Work
There are pro’s and con’s to doing contract work. You can search for fixed-term contract jobs on Monster.ca. Also for temp and part-time positions. How do Monster’s contract jobs differ from the ones on talent market sites?
Normally on Monster the postings you find are for a month or two, six months, or up to a year. You deal directly with employers. They may ask you to sign on as a freelancer or as a fixed-term employee. This could involve working at the employer’s premises if asked to. As the freelancer, using Monster to find work doesn’t cost you a cent.
In contrast, the gigs on talent markets ask you – the freelancer – to bid on projects. You’re the one who estimates timelines (though the client typically states their desired project-completion date). When you submit your bid, you do so only through the talent site (they send it to the client). It’s very unlikely you’ll be asked to visit the client’s premises, unless hands-on work is absolutely required. Some talent sites accept payment for advertising yourself more prominently; most take a portion of your invoice price as payment.
Some Comments From Freelancers Who Are Using Talent Markets
Here are some perspectives from a couple of Canadians who get paid gigs from talent markets.
Wen Lei, age 24. Web Designer, Charlettown, Prince Edward Island: Odesk Contractor.
“Where I live, there’s only so much work for local web design. I like to do my own thing so I heard about ODesk and signed up as a Contractor,” says Wen. She started a year ago, and estimates she’s had about $25,000 worth of gigs so far.
“At first I didn’t know how to bid right. I kept asking for too much or too little. It took a while to start winning contracts,” she adds. Wen’s first gig was updating a website for a client in the Philippines. Wanting the business, she put in a low bid. Wen got the business. But her estimate for the hours of work involved turned out to be way low.
The initial gig was disappointing for her. “I opted for the ‘hourly rate’ bid, and because I was new I didn’t budget enough hours to do the project right. I ended up working for much less than minimum wage,” says Wen. But next time around she did her research and knew how to price. She started to win bids that paid her keep. “Right now I’m living at home. As a recent grad I can manage to live off the project money I’m earning. For me it’s a great way to be self-employed and have a lot of flexibility.”
Maxwell DuMaurier, age 29. Translator. Rimouski, Quebec. Guru.com Freelancer.
Maxwell is an occasional user of talent market sites. He now gets most of his clients from word of mouth, and by marketing himself on his website and social media.
“I used to use these talent sites a lot,” says Maxwell. “At first it seemed easier than running around and networking to try and meet clients, a real chore for me.” The first gigs he secured through Guru.com were encouraging. They paid well, and he could market himself from his living room. Plus it was convenient that the site took care of collecting and disbursing payments.
“Since then I’ve noticed some changes,” Maxwell adds. “There are more sites like this out there, and many more freelancers competing for the postings. I’ve noticed that the fees I can charge are decreasing, sometimes very discouragingly.”
Maxwell notes that as more freelancers from around the world bid for business, rates are changing. “If a client wants me to do translation for use in Quebec, I still have something of an edge. It’s unlikely a translator in Vietnam can capture ‘la joile,’ our local expressions and language idioms. For the rest of Canada it isn’t the same. I can’t compete with that person from a country where local wages might be half – or even less than a third – what I need to charge just to stay in business.”
Another thing that Maxwell dislikes is being monitored while working. “I refuse to do hourly work for these sites if the client wants to watch me on my webcam. I find it a little creepy and insulting.”